There is no other fourteen thousand foot peak in the Sierra with a better ridge route to the summit. This route is certainly not hiking, but then the difficulties are not so great as to require technical climbing skills. Mt. Russell is Mt. Whitney’s often forgotten neighbor to the north, and offers stunning views of Mt. Whitney and the surrounding scenery as we ascend a gradual but narrow ridge to an exciting summit crest between the east and, slightly higher, west summits. You’ll also see the highest-named lake in the country, Tulainyo Lake, straddling the border between Inyo and Tulare counties.
If you want to combine two peaks in one trip, then pair up the Mountaineers Route on Mount Whitney along with the East Ridge. You’ll experience two summits in four days for a perfect moderate mountaineering outing.
The best guidebooks are Supertopo’s “High Sierra Climbing” by Chris McNamara and Peter Croft’s “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome”.
Get them from Maximus Press.
We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000′) just prior to the trip. Spending a night at Whitney Portal or the Cottonwood Campground would do the trick.
Return to Whitney Trips
Day One: The Approach
We start our climb at the 8,640 foot Whitney Portal and stay on the regular Whitney Trail for less than a mile before heading up the steep North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. The trail here is non-maintained and rough with creek crossings and rocks to scramble up and over. We traverse the “Ebersbacher” Ledges above the creek and drop into the serene setting of Lower Boy Scout Lake (10,335’) before ascending to our camp beside Upper Boy Scout Lake (11,200’), near Mount Russell. This is an elevation gain of 2,500’ from the cars and takes most of the day.
Day Two: The Climb
An early start up the sandy slopes above Upper Boy Scout takes us up onto the high plateau between Mt. Russell and Mt. Carillon. This section gains most of the elevation we need to climb and from here the east ridge is simply perfect climbing along easy 3rd to 4th class rock. This is a little harder climbing than on the Mountaineers Route and has some exposure. The ridge crest is narrow—but not a true knife-edge—with ample ledges and places to stop, rest and enjoy the views and the ever-increasing exposure.
We traverse this around blocks and pillars before coming to the east summit. From here the crest widens some and is almost level to the west summit a few feet higher than the first. To descend we return towards the eastern summit and then drop down a short gully to the south onto talus slopes that take us to the Whitney-Russell Col and down to Iceberg Lake. From here it is not too much farther down to our camp at Upper Boy Scout Lake.
Day Three: The Hike Out
We return down the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek and plan to get back down to the trailhead in time for a lunch of the famed burgers and fries at the Whitney Portal Store, before heading home tired but satisfied.
Elevations and Distances
Trailhead to Lower Boy Scout Lake: 1.9 miles, 2060’ of gain, 60’ of descent
Lower Boy Scout Lake to Upper Boy Scout Lake: 0.8 miles, 1040’ of gain, 30’ of descent
Upper Boy Scout Lake to start of technical section: 1 mile, 2090’ of gain, 0’ of descent
Start of technical section to the Summit: 0.45 miles, 720’ of gain, 110’ of descent
Summit to Iceberg Lake: 0.9 miles, 173’ of gain, 1610’ of descent
Iceberg Lake to Camp: 1.2 miles, 30’ of gain, 1310’ of descent
Camp to Trailhead: 2.7 miles, 90’ of gain, 3100’ of descent
Technical climbing skills are not required but prior backpacking experience is recommended as is experience at altitudes above 12,000’. This is a physically demanding trip and you should be in good condition and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a moderately heavy pack.
Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.
Local accommodation is not included.
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